No Sleep October: Contamination (1980)

Welcome to No Sleep October 2016. I don’t like horror movies, so I’ll be watching and writing about one every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this month. Wednesdays will be foreign language; Friday will be longer essays, incorporating several movies from a series or a thematic set.

I have quite a few gaps in my horror knowledge, so this experiment is going to explore a number of movies. Some classics and some…not so much, like today’s entry on Luigi Cozzi’s “Contamination.”

In “Contamination,” a mysterious cargo ship arrives in New York City carrying a cargo-load of evil alien eggs. The entire crew is dead, each of them blown apart from the inside. But these eggs don’t open to reveal parasites; they don’t contain a hidden horror. They are the horror, humming a low-pitched cry of evil as their victim approaches. And when the room heads up? They pop, splattering anyone around with goo that makes the victim explode from the inside out.

Three scientists enter the boat and explore it; only one makes it out alive to tell the tale. The United States government launches an investigation into the eggs and eventually astronaut Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch) and Col. Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) discover its source: a cycloptic Martian monster in the deep jungles of Colombia.

 

From the description, you can probably guess that “Contamination” is a ripoff of “Alien,” but they only borrow the egg idea. They don’t even try to rip off the things that make “Alien” actually good. The gore effects are so rough that the people are clearly wearing giant blood-bags before blowing open. The cyclops at the end is, well, probably one of the most incoherently designed giant monsters I’ve ever seen. It’s a massive animatronic monster with multiple mouths and an elephant tusk, what seem to be tentacles and a big flashlight for an eye. The stuff of nightmares? A bit more like the stuff of a bored, doodling third-grader’s daydreams.

I feel somewhat guilty saying that because the mind behind “Contamination” was Luigi Cozzi, whose body of work, well … wait, yeah, that’s not an inaccurate description, but it sounds more belittling than it should. Cozzi didn’t write or direct masterpieces, but his movies are classics of schlock. His 1976 Italian re-release of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” affectionately christened “Cozilla,” is the weirdest version of the movie that exists; “Star Crash” is an absolute oddity with some great David Hasselhoff.

I watched “Contamination” with my friend Nate because the idea of watching little eggs that hum real weird and make their victims explode from the inside out sounded like a radical way to spend an evening, particularly given the company. It was, kinda, in the way 70’s – 80’s Italian schlock always is: mostly boring, sometimes gloriously gory, often saved by funky music by Goblin.

When I went home and pulled up the soundtrack on YouTube, I was astonished to see the cover art. It is mysterious and basic. The kind of cover art that makes me curious. I’d have watched this one if I’d happened upon it in a FamilyVideo or at the library. Not that I would have necessarily found them there; “Contamination” is the kind of weirdo movie that seems like one you have to be introduced to, the kind that in the days before YouTube you’d be unlikely to stumble upon.

There’s something to be said for horror schlock. It adds an element of forbidden fruit, stumbling upon something enjoyable in a purely trashy way that you wouldn’t find otherwise. So I’m not being mean to “Contamination.” The score is great, the gore is hilarious, the extended sequence that cuts between a screaming woman and a humming egg is delightful, but its charms are more in the context of how you watch it than the film itself.


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Administrator of Midwest Film Journal. Previously a staff writer for TheFilmYap.com, Evan has been writing film criticism in the Indianapolis area for over half a decade. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. He also reviews Oreos.


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